Wednesday, February 23, 2011

This Week's Menu

There's an Indonesian peanut sauce I've been making all winter that I never get tired of, so it made an appearance on the menu this week for several clients of mine.  It's seasoned with chili powder, ginger, toasted shallots, and garlic, then right at the end just as it begins to bubble in the pot, I stir in some coconut cream to thin it out.  This is so delicious with poured over wide rice noodles, baked tofu and broccoli.

For the second entree I made Pan-fried Tempeh with Wild Rice Pilaf and Oven-Roasted Brussels Sprouts.  I realized I hadn't made anything with wild rice for quite some time, and I really like this blend of rices from Lundberg Farms.  The complimentary flavors of tart apple, sweet dried cranberries, and green onion all worked really well together, and the crunch of toasted pecans added some richness to the mix.

The third entree was Barbecue Tofu with Mashed Potatoes and Dijon Green Beans.  I guess I've been in the mood for summer lately, and this dish makes me think of grilling outside, sitting in my yard with the sun shining on my face.   Soon enough!

Northern Connecticut Vegetarian Society Potluck

For anyone who is new to vegetarianism or for those who just want to know there are others like them out there, the Northern Connecticut Vegetarian Society is a group which offers a monthly potluck gathering in Windsor, CT, usually with a featured presenter.  This month's guest speaker was Steve LaPenta, owner of The Bridge, makers of the best tofu around.  I tell people all the time that if they are hesitant about trying tofu, this is the brand to seek out.  It's made fresh daily in Middletown, CT in small batches, so it has an artisinal quality akin to farmer's cheese, though without any harm being done to animals in the process.

This is The Bridge's 30th anniversary, and Steve spoke about the earliest days where the company got its start, learning to make tofu the traditional way with Michio Kushi, to its present incarnation as a small shop located inside a converted house on Washington Street, serving wholesale customers in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey with the same attention to quality.  (Read about my tour of The Bridge here.)

After the presentation, we grazed.  I've always believed that attending potlucks is the best way to discover the variety of foods available in the plant kingdom, and it's always a pleasure to exchange recipes.

No two plates are the same, and it's amazing how much food you can pile on a plate with just a forkful here, a spoonful there.  The standout for me on this visit was a Raw Cashew Dip served with celery.  It had a flavor reminiscent of French Onion Dip which worked perfectly with the celery, but I could've slathered it on everything.  Somebody suggested serving it with vegan Buffalo Wings and I have to admit that concept was rather enticing.

It was so nice to see old friends and make new ones, and I highly recommend taking a trip to Windsor next month for anyone curious to learn more.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Cumin India

Anyone who follows this Blog knows I'm a big fan of Indian food, so when a new Indian restaurant opened recently just up the road from me, I couldn't wait to check it out.  Cumin India has set up shop in the former IHOP restaurant on Skiff Street in Hamden.  The blue A-frame roof is still there, but inside you'd never know this used to be a pancake house.

I love the heady spices and flavorful cuisine, and am always on the lookout for a place that serves Dosas.  When I discovered that this South Indian treat was on the menu at Cumin India, I couldn't wait to go.  So I went last week in anxious anticipation of digging into a giant rice flour crepe stuffed with savory curried potatoes.  Alas, I was disappointed to discover there was only a limited menu available during the first month as the kitchen was not yet equipped to prepare this item.

Although a little thrown by this revelation, I decided to order a couple of stand-ins which turned out to be quite delicious.  The Aloo Tikki are spiced mashed potatoes which are hand-formed into little patties, dusted in chickpea flour and panfried to crisp perfection.  I topped these with various chutneys served along with the complimentary pappadom lentil wafers.

For my entree I went with the Chana Masala stand-by, which arrived in a huge bowl along with basmati rice.  The sauce was thick, rich, and savory, and had a homey quality which made me feel like I was sharing lunch in someone's kitchen rather than a restaurant.  I'd definitely order this again.

My friend ordered the lunch buffet which, at $10.95, was a bargain as long as you're not a vegan.  There were plenty of fresh looking items displayed in the chafing dishes, and this would make a substantial  meal that could eliminate the need for dinner.  For vegans, there was a coconut cabbage (yum!) and curried mixed vegetables, which contained a ton of cauliflower which I was happy to sample.  There was also Gajar Halwa for dessert, a sweet Indian pudding made with shredded carrots.  I tried a forkful to determine if it was delicious (it was), though highly doubtful it was vegan.

Once the full menu is up and running, I look forward to a return visit!


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

This week's menu

I recently shared my recipe for Roasted Red Pepper Coulis with a student and since it came out so delicious, I decided to make it for a client this week.  It's probably one of the easiest sauces to make, and yet the flavor is so rich and decadent.  It goes nicely with Cumin Spiced Quinoa and Black Bean Stuffed Baked Zucchini Boats, which is how I served it this week.

The second meal was Cornmeal Crusted Tofu Cutlets with Quinoa and Broccoli with Cauliflower Cream.  I had been wondering what to make with cauliflower since it's in season right now, and remembered this luscious sauce (I guess I must be feeling pretty saucy this week!).  The cauliflower is cooked until fork tender, then pureed with nutritional yeast, miso, rice milk, and a little olive oil and sea salt.  You'd never know it's as healthy as it is.

The third entree was Curried Chickpea and Cashew Quinoa Pilaf with Stringbean Amandine.  The quinoa pilaf is modified from a recipe that called for couscous, but since I can't eat wheat I substituted the quinoa, which I think tastes even better.  There is kind of a sweet-spicy-savory-flavor combo with a nice balance of natural sweetness from raisins and spice from curry powder, cinnamon and turmeric. Perfectly sublime.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Be My Vegan Valentine

If you're looking for a way to celebrate the holiday of love this year, there are many websites offering  special love-themed menus, gift-giving ideas, and compassionate ways to express your love of those near and dear to your heart.  It's a fun time to get creative in the kitchen and add a little romance to your life.

For a comprehensive list of menu ideas, recipes, cooking tips, and of course, chocolate, visit VegNews' Vegan Valentine page.  There's so much good stuff here you may have to continue celebrating for the rest of the month.  You can't go wrong with dishes like Rapini with Figs, Garlic & Pine Nuts, Cashew Fondue for Two, Sexy DIY Sushi Rolls, and Aphrodisiac Asparagus Pasta.

Another site for recipe ideas is VegWeb's My Sweet Valentine.  Here you'll find a collection of must-have recipes as well as a list of gift-giving ideas and links to online retailers.

The Top 10 Vegan Valentine Recipes can be found on Ecorazzi.  There are more great ideas here, but I have to say, it must have been tough limiting that list to just 10.

I kinda snickered at the Top Ten Veg Pick Up lines.  For vegan singles out there, no need to despair!  You can also search various veg dating websites for that special someone, and maybe start making plans for next year!

Whatever your plans are this Valentine's Day, always keep in mind that love = compassion, and consider our friends the animals as part of your holiday celebration.  Kiss a smiling piggy, hug a dog, cuddle with your kitty, and remember to shower them with love on this special day.  Sponsoring a farm animal is a great way to show your love.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

High Energy Vegan Cooking Lesson

One of the things I enjoy most about being a chef is getting to teach people how to make delicious vegan food at home.  Not only is it a privilege to share awesome recipes and expand someone's repertoire, but I get to chat with my clients and have a good time in the process.  Such was the case this week when I had a second cooking lesson with a client who is trying to incorporate more raw foods into her diet.  She is eating healthier and already seeing some positive results:  more energy, excitement about cooking new foods, and even a family that is willing to try her creations (and enjoy eating them, too!).

For this lesson we did a raw twist on Mexican by making "refried beans" from sunflower seeds.  The sunflower seeds are soaked, drained, then rinsed and pulsed together in a food processor with carrot, onion, garlic, olive oil and spices.  It comes together as a sort of pate that serves as a filling in a Romaine lettuce leaf (our "taco").   This was topped by a luscious mango salsa and fresh cilantro.

The leaf can also be rolled burrito style and topped with the salsa.  While the presentation is lovely either way, I kinda like the hands-on action of picking up that great big lettuce leaf taco.

Next, we made Quinoa and Black Bean Stuffed Baked Zucchini with Roasted Red Pepper Coulis.  I can't say enough about that sauce.  It's luscious, rich, flavorful, and so easy to make.  Plus it makes a really nice heart on the plate, perfect for Valentine's Day.

We also made Cornmeal Crusted Tofu Cutlets, which are reminiscent of KFC, though I didn't steal Colonel Sanders' secret recipe.  This one's probably a little healthier anyway!  The cornmeal combined with nutritional yeast and a few spices provides a flavorful crunch on the outside, and the tofu inside stays moist.  It's a nice accompaniment to the other recipes we prepared in this lesson.  Or, as is the case with my client, it can be used as a meat substitute when everyone else is eating chicken and you don't want to prepare a completely separate vegan dinner for yourself.  It also works great as a sandwich filling,  or cut up as a topping for a salad.

All of these recipes combined are high in protein and fiber, yet low in fat and calories since we used very little oil.  This is the perfect menu for high energy living!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

This week's menu

I've been making a lot of tofu scrambles this week, inspired by a recent recipe created for the Superbowl.  One was southwestern style with red and green peppers, mushrooms, and onions and seasoned with chili powder.  Another was tofu florentine with spinach and mushrooms.

For one of my clients this week I chose a mix of zucchini and yellow squash seasoned with nutritional yeast and oregano.  All of these were served with a generous side of curried homefries.  This makes a perfect breakfast-for-dinner entree, but really, I could eat it any time of the day.

Another entree this week was a Spicy Triple Green Tempeh Saute with Brown Rice.  The three green veggies were broccoli, asparagus, and green beans, and the spicy sauce included red pepper flakes, tamari, sesame oil, mustard, and Thai chili sauce.

The final meal was a hearty Green Lentil with Sauteed Greens and Maple Glazed Butternut Squash. [apologies for the glowing orange orbs of butternut squash in the photo] The squash was baked in the oven and caramelized on one side, then it was topped with maple syrup for a few more minutes in the oven to form a glaze.  This is a simple, yet satisfying dish inspired by seasonal staples.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Tofu Scramble Super Bowl Salad

While I'm not planning a big Super Bowl blowout this weekend, I do enjoy a party as long as there's plenty of good vegan food to go around.  Most of the time the big game makes us think of finger food, snacks, and all sorts of junky munchies that help make the excitement that much more exciting.  As an alternative, I've come up with a quick and easy recipe that will help ease the guilt from indulging in all those salty, high-fat foods.  Eat it before game time to fill up with a healthy meal as insurance against the devastation ahead.

This recipe was developed as a courtesy to Pace Foods which sent me two free samples of Picante Sauce to experiment with.  The sauce is vegan, gluten-free, and made from all natural ingredients, and as a bonus, it does not contain high fructose corn syrup either, so I was happy to give it a try.

Start by sauteing about a cup each of of diced red pepper, diced onion, and sliced mushrooms in a hot skillet with some olive oil until lightly browned (about 5 minutes).  Season with salt and fresh crushed black pepper.

Meanwhile, dice a potato and cook it in a pot of boiling water until fork tender.   Crumble 8 oz. of extra firm tofu over the top of the pepper mixture, then add the drained potatoes and 2-3 Tbl of nutritional yeast, 1-2 tsp chili powder, 1 tsp turmeric, 1 tsp sea salt, and 2 Tbl picante sauce.  I also added a pinch of cayenne since my picante sauce was "mild," but you can season yours to suit your own taste.  Stir it all together and heat until sizzling.

I served mine over a heaping pile of chopped Romaine lettuce for some crunch.  This is a satisfyingly spicy and savory meal on its own, and the perfect pre-game activity for Super Bowl Sunday.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Baked Polenta with Mushroom Gravy, Quinoa and Green Beans

I had a craving tonight for biscuits and gravy.  This posed a problem for two reasons:  1) biscuits usually aren't gluten-free which means I can't (or shouldn't) eat them, and 2) it would take some time to research and test a gluten-free alternative recipe, and I was just too hungry for that.  Instead, I went for a simple shortcut and had dinner on the table in 15 minutes.

The solution?  Polenta.  You know those tubes of pre-made polenta that you can cut up and pop into a hot oven then bake until crispy (or simply microwave if you're in that much of a hurry)?  That's what I used in place of the biscuits, and they made for a pretty decent stand-in. Then I simply sauteed some chopped shallots and sliced mushrooms until lightly browned, stirred in a tamari and water broth thickened with corn starch, and added a tablespoon of tahini at the end for that gravy-like consistency.  I combined this with some leftover quinoa and blanched green beans for my quick and easy dinner - yum!